"I'm a footballer and I'm proud to be gay."
The words of 21-year-old Australian player Josh Cavallo have generated global support and admiration.
Cavallo is the first-ever active player in Australia's A-League to come out as gay. He is also the only current top-flight male footballer to come out as gay.
The public announcement was made in an emotional video published on social media by his team, Adelaide United, ahead of the new A-League season.
Cavallo has stated that he wants to set an example for other gay players and inspire change.
"Growing up, I always felt the need to hide myself ... because I was ashamed, ashamed I'll never be able to do what I love and be gay."
"All I want to do is play football and be treated equally. I'm tired of trying to perform at the best of my ability and to live this double life."
"It's exhausting, it's something that I don't want anyone to experience."
Cavallo added that the support and response he has received has been "immense," making him wonder why he had hidden his sexuality for years.
"Thank you for this step"
The video, posted with the caption "Josh's truth," has generated tremendous reactions from professional athletes, clubs, and sports organisations around the world.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson said on Twitter that he has "huge respect" for Cavallo.
"It’s courageous and shares an important message that everyone deserves to be themselves no matter what," Henderson added.
The word "proud" was echoed by French footballer Antoine Griezmann, while Raphaël Varane --- another World Cup winner with France -- said the announcement "must have taken much courage".
Many, including Spain and Barcelona defender Gerard Piqué, thanked Cavallo for his announcement.
"I don’t have the pleasure to know you personally but I want to thank you for this step that you take," Piqué said on Twitter.
"The world of football is far behind and you are helping us move forward."
Meanwhile, the legendary former Spanish basketball player Pau Gasol said that "in 2021, this shouldn't be news."
"Well done for this step forward for sport, well said," he added on Twitter.
"The world is a better place for your courage"
Around the world, only a few male professional footballers have come out as gay during their careers.
The former German international Thomas Hitzlsperger came out as gay in 2014, a year after his retirement.
Hitzlsperger tweeted on Thursday that Cavallo has "already inspired a lot of people and will continue to do so".
Meanwhile, American Robbie Rogers came out as gay after initially retiring a year earlier before returning to play in the United States. Rogers went on to be the first openly gay male athlete to win a major professional team sports title in the US.
Andy Brennan became Australia's first player to come out in 2019 while he was playing in a lower league.
Cavallo said he himself had been inspired by Thomas Beattie, a former youth player for English club Hull City who came out as gay in 2020.
"Visibility and representation matters," Beattie said on Twitter, adding that he was "so proud" of Cavallo. "The world is a better place for your courage."
Collin Martin, an openly gay male professional footballer for San Diego Loyal in the USL, also expressed his support for Cavallo on social media.
"You’ll never know the full extent of your impact by coming out as a footballer but you definitely will have made it easier for young players looking up to you," said Martin.
Activists have long been bemoaning a lack of progress in men's football on homosexuality.
In 1990, England's Justin Fashanu publically came out as gay, but later committed suicide in 1998 while living in the United States.
A charity set up by his family last year released a letter from an anonymous Premier League player saying that they "felt trapped, with the fear of telling the truth about who I am only making things worse".
Josh Cavallo also said that he had feared that people would think and treat him "differently" when they found out.
"I want to inspire and show people that it's OK to be yourself and play football," Cavallo said in the video from his Adelaide home.
"It's OK to be gay and to play football."